On Wednesday, Councillors for Perth and Kinross Council agreed one of the lowest percentage increases for Council Tax in Scotland keeping the rise at just 3.9%.
The rise in Council Tax for the 2023/23 financial year is the equivalent of less than a pound a week more for Band D properties, as the council’s budget focused on supporting residents in need, economic recovery and investing in the local communities.
Councillor Grant Laing, Leader of the Council, said: “At a challenging time, when budgets are stretched and many of our residents are feeling the strain, I am proud that we have today been able to agree a budget which strikes a balance between focusing on the people most in need, helping our local communities, and investing for the future.
“From the beginning of this term we have put tackling poverty and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis at the top of our agenda. Today we have reaffirmed that commitment with over £1.5m of investment in projects to support local residents most in need, including £600,000 to fund projects aimed at helping our communities deal with the cost of living crisis.”
As well as agreeing the Council Tax rise, Councillors also agreed to invest £100,000 to provide further support to families and children in poverty. As well as voting to support the households most in need by removing breakfast club charges and keeping school meal charges at 2023/24 rates.
The budget also aged to maintain the existing school crossing patrollers and Educational Psychology provisions.
A further £100,000 will be provided to supply study support in schools over the Easter holidays for senior secondary pupils ahead of their exams. With another £120,000 to pay for food and fun activities during school holidays.
Street cleaning and winter maintenance reductions were also rejected by the Cllrs, with the existing service being enhanced with an extra investment to add grit bins to new locations and tackle anti-social fly-tipping, littering and dog fouling.
Tackling the climate and biodiversity emergencies remained a priority in the new budget, with £75,000 being provided to support biodiversity in open spaces, while £250,000 will be invested to provide electric vehicle charging points in rural areas. There was also support for public transport as a proposal to reduce the budget for local bus services was rejected.
The council is also being asked to find £2million of energy efficiency savings. As a result of the agreed revenue budget, there will be a minimal impact on Council staff numbers, with a small reduction likely achieved through managing existing vacancies and staff turnover.
Councillor Laing added: “This budget supports our underlying priority to work in partnership with communities, recognising the value of local knowledge and what residents can contribute to the place where they live. In this budget we’ve included £90,000 of investment in work to discourage and take action against the minority of people who fly-tip, litter or don’t pick up after their dogs which then negatively affects how the vast majority of residents feel about their area.
“We’ve also recognised the value of the local voluntary organisations who support people and communities in need by including a 7.5% increase for 2023/24 in the funding we provide to them, to help with the additional costs they are facing. Plus, an additional £100,000 specifically to support mental health self-help groups, who are in so much demand during this difficult time, to provide out of hours support for people experiencing mental health crisis.”
Councillors opted against a proposed saving which would have impacted on events aimed at attracting visitors back to retail centres, city and town centre management services and help to bring back vacant properties back into use. With £150,000 being invested to carry out a review of all the Council’s Leisure and Cultural assets to ensure best use is being made of them.
Cllr Laing further explained: “While the Council is facing difficult financial decisions it is also important to be aware of the impact of the choices we make. Retaining our city and town centre management initiatives helps support our small, independent businesses and the economies of our town centres.
“Likewise, we have today reinstated most of the budget for events, both Council-run and Council-supported, which help bring vibrancy and attract both residents and visitors into our city and town centres. We are instead shifting the balance of how these are funded by adding a £100,000 income target to prioritise seeking sponsorship. This will offset the burden on the public purse while still retaining the most popular of the events, which will be the most attractive ones to prospective sponsors.”
Adding: “This budget invests in our children and families, it invests in our economic wellbeing, it invests in our communities, it invests in climate change and in our infrastructure. It also minimises the financial impact on all our households with a Council Tax rise significantly below inflation.
“It is a budget designed to ensure that our residents and our communities can remain confident in all that our Council stands for. It is a budget which focuses on protecting people and protecting our vital assets.”
The Council also voted on the Capital Budget for the next financial year, agreeing a refined list of projects to ensure the continued affordability of the plan as part of the balancing for 2023/24 to 2027/28.
The project to replace the Blairgowrie Recreation Centre was given continued support with an additional £9.3million agreed to meet the revised construction costs. There was an agreed £10million investment to unlock land new business land to the west of Perth.
£4.4million was agreed to repair the Garry Viaduct, a three span road bridge over the Garry River and Highland Railway in Highland Perthshire, with another £2million invested in bridges and structures.
Money was allocated to create a new Gypsy/Travellers site within the Food and Drink Park at North Muirton, Perth. A casualty of the budget was the previously agreed project to deliver PH20, the planned replacement of Perth Leisure Pool and Dewar’s Centre, with a new wet/ice leisure centre in Perth City.
Councillor Laing explained: “PH20 has been a long-term ambition for our sports and leisure trust partners, Live Active Leisure, and the Council. However, in an extremely challenging financial climate we have reluctantly agreed to pause this project for now. The existing budget provision for PH20 of £90 million will be retained pending further review of our capital programme. This is a case of not yet, rather than not at all.
“The Council and Live Active leisure will continue to work closely together to ensure the best possible physical activity and sports services are delivered across Perth and Kinross within the resources we have available.”